One of nonwovens’ oldest manufacturing processes and, some say, its most turbulent, meltblown nonwovens has been overshadowed by its more popular relative spunmelt nonwovens which has grown to become the world’s largest nonwovens technology. However, meltblown continues to be valued for its fine fiber profile, is ability to offer high absorbency and its compatability with other nonwovens processes to form composite structures and open new doors for nonwovens.
While many associate meltblown with filtration, manufacturers report opportunities across many other markets like sorbents, wipes, geotextiles and more. This has led to somewhat of a resurgence of the technology which can offer more flexibility and higher profits than many competing technologies.
Don & Low Starts Up New Line
A newcomer to meltblown technology, Don & Low has been manufacturing spunbond since 1989 and sees the diversification into meltblown as a means to expanding its offerings in nonwovens. The company had already been using externally sourced meltblown nonwovens in some of its high performance composite materials, so the step into the production and development of meltblown materials was a natural one.
The new line has allowed Don & Low to expand into a number of new markets including; filtration, automotive, absorbents and advanced composites. “Active R&D prior to installation meant that upon installation, we literally hit the ground running,” says Will Campbell, sales executive, nonwovens. “The TPU has some unique properties and has had significant interest in industrial, apparel and medical applications.”
Don & Low’s focus is to continue to be an innovative manufacturer of composite and laminate nonwovens and the addition of this line strengthens its group product offerings. The line has the ability to utilize a range of polymers including polypropylene, polyethylene and a more innovative thermoplastic polyurethane. Other key features include; online air permeability testing, gap control calendars, the ability to laminate multiple materials inline and multi-width slitting.
“Meltblown systems are unique in that the process generates a fine fiber not available in other nonwoven processes,” Campbell adds. “It is these micro fibers that have opened up new opportunities in terms of products and applications where a high filtration efficiency or microbiological barrier are required. The addition of TPU also brings new nonwoven capabilities for Don & Low like multidirectional stretch materials with excellent memory.”
In addition to offering the possibility for new markets, the addition of meltblown provides Don & Low with a nice business opportunity. The meltblown sector is in essence not an overcrowded market and is still deemed to be a relatively new technology. As such, new applications remain to be discovered. While some other manufacturers focus on high volume sorbent markets, Don & Low will continue its focus on high performance, innovative nonwovens, often developed in partnership with its customers.
FiberDynamics Targets Wipes
For meltblown manufacturer FiberDynamics, 85% of its output targets the absorbent wipes market where the material is favored for its high absorbency. While this company has been in the wipes market for 40 years, meltblown’s share of the category is small, probably about 10-15%, according to executives.
“It is a very specialized application,” explains Patrick Heery, meltblown manager. “It offers high absorption characteristics and good release profile. We see a lot of interest in the material as a medical wipe or a dental wipe.”
Because FiberDynamics participates in smaller markets for wipes, it offers more flexibility in its product line. Heery says his company does small runs, offers color specs and other things that manufacturers of spunmelt its main competitive technology, won’t “We survive by offering smaller companies what they want when they want it while our competition is looking at bigger runs, like in hygiene. We try to cater to the higher end of the market,” he says.
However, being small is not without its disadvantages. New advancements in spunmelt have made the product softer and lighter and this is driving prices way down, meaning FiberDynamics has to work hard to keep its customers happy.
“We turn things around quickly,” Heery adds. “We can run trials in a couple of weeks. We can get feedback quickly and that is what separates us from the others.”